CT native Anika Noni Rose talks roles in 'The Princess and the Frog,' 'Let the Right One In'

The Tony Award-winning actress is set to reprise her signature role in the 2023 Disney+ show 'Tiana'

Photo of Joseph Tucci

Tony award winner Anika Noni Rose's journey in the performing arts has taken her everywhere from the Broadway stage to the world of Disney. But before she became associated with a Disney princess, she cultivated her acting chops in northern Connecticut.

Rose grew up in Bloomfield and performed in her first musical at Bloomfield High School, titled "Fame," a story about the journey of a class in the High School for the Performing Arts. She enjoyed the role so much that she decided to pursue a career in acting. 

"I did a musical [at Bloomfield High School], and that's when I decided this was it for me," Rose said. "I stopped doing all sports, I got out of the band because I had found the thing that felt like nothing else to me. That was sort of the beginning of everything." 

Rose's family supported her dream and took her to places like the Hartford Ballet and the Bushnell Performing Arts Center, letting her immerse herself in the arts. After high school, she got her bachelor's degree in theater at Florida A&M University and a master of fine arts degree at the American Conservatory Theater. 

"My family never tried to get me to do anything else. They were never like, 'Oh, maybe instead of theater, you should major in [something different]. There was none of that. They saw what I was capable of," Rose said. "I was very grateful they were very supportive because it's not what they did. They loved the arts, but they weren't in the arts."

Her dream ended up becoming a reality. In 2008, Rose made history as the first African-American Disney princess with her role as Tiana in "The Princess and the Frog." The musical tale stars Rose as a young woman from Louisiana who dreams of opening her own restaurant, but plans change when she meets a prince who was turned into a frog. Three years later, Rose was crowned a Disney Legend, which is a Hall of Fame-like status for those who made a "significant impact on the Disney legacy," according to Disney's website.

"When I got that role, it was just phenomenal to me. I would have been perfectly happy to voice a tree. I didn't know that I was going to be voicing a princess. It is such a blessing to be able to inhabit that space and inhabit it for children to be able to see her, connect to her and love her. It's something that will be here long after I'm gone. When I'm gone, she's here and it's an amazing, amazing thing," Rose said. 

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JANUARY 24: Anika Noni Rose attends The Princess And The Frog special event at The Mayfair Hotel on January 24, 2010 in London, England. (Photo by Jon Furniss/WireImage)

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JANUARY 24: Anika Noni Rose attends The Princess And The Frog special event at The Mayfair Hotel on January 24, 2010 in London, England. (Photo by Jon Furniss/WireImage)

Jon Furniss/WireImage

"The Princess and the Frog" isn't the end of Tiana's adventures — Rose will reprise her role in 2023 in the new Disney+ series, "Tiana."

"It is going to be fun; it's going to be an adventure. You get to carry on with her life and move forward with her, which I'm excited about," Rose said.

According to Rose, Tiana has helped Black children realize that "they can be the princess," despite how princesses were traditionally portrayed.

"It is so important for us to expand those images in the space of fantasy. That's where children communicate, that's where they live. Even if they are not watching, per se, a Disney cartoon, their mind is constantly acting and creating something. So to speak to them in the space of fantasy is exactly speaking to them in their own language. What Princess Tiana has done in that space is open doors and minds," Rose said.

Disney first reached out to Rose while she was portraying her Emmie Thibodeaux in the play "Caroline, or Change," a story about a Black maid working for a Jewish family in 1963. Her role as Thibodeaux won her a Tony award for Best Featured Actress in 2004. Disney brought her in for a general meeting to get to know her, and two years later, she auditioned for the role of Tiana before ultimately landing the part.

"I have to say from the beginning, I felt like, 'This is for me...this is for me.' It's not always that I feel like that, but most of the time, when I hear that voice I've been right, and I'm really glad I was right this time," Rose said. "I just felt like I knew this girl and I understood her. I grew up in a small town where people didn't think I could do the thing that I wanted to do, I was told I can't do it, I was told to make my dream smaller — not by my family, but people around me. I understood that path and I understand the desire to be bigger, to go further."

Aside from Disney, Rose has also ventured into the animated world of DC, playing the classic "Batman" character Catwoman during the 2021 film, "Injustice." Rose said she loves the character and called actress Eartha Kitt's version from the 1966 live-action "Batman" television series "her very favorite." 

"I love cats. So for me to love Catwoman is fantastic," Rose said. "For me to be able to [play] Catwoman was so much fun and I would love to be able to go back to her because it was a great experience. Anytime, anytime I could do Catwoman on a jump."

Rose also recently took on a new role as homicide detective and single mother Naomi Cole in the 2022 live-action Showtime series, "Let the Right One In," which is about a character named Mark Kane (played by Oscar-nominee Demián Bichir) trying to find a cure for his vampire daughter Eleanor Kane (played by Madison Taylor Baez,) according to Showtime's website. The Kanes move in next to Naomi and son Isaiah (played by Ian Foreman) and the children become friends, but around the same time, New York City experiences some "crazy murders." 

(L-R): Ian Foreman as Isaiah and Anika Noni Rose as Naomi Cole in LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, ÒAnything for BloodÓ. Photo Credit: Francisco Roman/SHOWTIME.

(L-R): Ian Foreman as Isaiah and Anika Noni Rose as Naomi Cole in LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, ÒAnything for BloodÓ. Photo Credit: Francisco Roman/SHOWTIME.

Francisco Roman/Francisco Roman/SHOWTIME

"[Naomi Cole] is a woman who is juggling a full-time job as a homicide detective and a full-time job as mom and making it work and making mistakes. And I think we learn that making mistakes is normal as a parent because you're a person," Rose said. "She's doing the best that she can and is leading with love with her child, and what is most important to her is his protection and his safety and his livelihood."

The actress said part of the reason she decided to join "Let the Right One In" was because she loved the original 2006 movie and 2004 book that the series is based on.

"It was important to me, reading the script, that we were going to do the film justice without doing exactly the same thing, which I think is sort of cool. I liked that world, I love vampires. All those things made [this show] appealing to me and that this character would not be typical. My character is an atypical woman, which I find interesting," Rose said. 

Outside of acting, Rose said she wants to support young people who want to make a career in the arts. Noting that art programs are some of the first things schools cut to save money, Rose, along with the Hartford Foundation for Giving, started The Cora Lee Bentley and William Radcliffe Memorial Fund. The Fund was named in honor of her late grandmother and late uncle and was created to get children that have special needs to involved the arts, like her uncle who had an aggressive form of Down Syndrome. She also financially supports other organizations like the Charter Oak Cultural Center in Hartford.

"I would like to bring art to those spaces, to those children. I would like to assist children in finding ways to express themselves. Partially what [The Cora Lee Bentley and William Radcliffe Memorial Fund] does is enrich them financially, so these things can happen," Rose said. 

For Rose, this education — whether in college, a performing arts camp or community theater — is one of the most important ways someone can prepare to break into the entertainment industry.  It also is a way to learn strengths, likes and dislikes that will help prepare aspiring performers for their future.

"If it's not fun, then explore another option. Even if you're like, 'Oh, I really want to be an actor,' and then find out you don't really want to be an actor [because] it's not fun, but you want to stay connected somehow [to the industry], there are so many other things to do," Rose said.